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TWA discriminated against older pilots.

In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court held that Trans World Airlines (TWA) had discriminated against its older pilots by making it difficult for them to move into flight engineers jobs when they reached the age 60 ceiling for pilots set by Federal law. The case, Trans World Airlines v. Thurston, had broad significance because several similar discrimination suits were processed against several other airlines.

Under TWA policy, pilots reaching age 60 could bid on flight engineers jobs, but were forced to retire if no such jobs were available. In the opinion written by Justice Lewis F. Powell, Jr., the Court said the policy was "discriminatory on its face" because a pilot unable to fly for reasons other than age would have been given another job without having to bid or wait for it.

In another important aspect of the ruling that has applications throughout the economy, the Court held that double damages can be awarded in discrimination cases only if the employer acted in "reckless disregard" of antidiscrimination law. Under Federal law, double damages can be assessed if the violation is "willful," which had been interpreted in a number of ways by Federal courts. In their arguments before the Supreme Court in the TWA case, attorneys for the pilots had contended that double damages should apply if TWA was aware of the law and its provisions. This argument was rejected by the Court, which said that such a standard "would result in an award of double damages in almost every case." Instead, the Court backed TWA's argument by defining willful conduct as occurring when an employer "knew or showed reckless disregard for" whether its action was prohibited by Federal law.
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Publication:Monthly Labor Review
Date:Mar 1, 1985
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